British immigration minister Kevin Foster has refused to appear before a parliamentary committee to explain the country’s response to the growing Ukrainian refugee crisis.
The home affairs committee has urged him to rethink “given the urgency of the situation”.
In a statement, it said:
Parliamentary under-secretary of state for immigration and future borders, Kevin Foster MP, has declined an invitation from the home affairs committee to give evidence on the UK’s response to the Ukraine refugee crisis.
The committee had issued the invitation to understand what the UK was doing to provide support and refuge to people leaving Ukraine following the invasion by Russia. It is estimated that 1 million people have been displaced by the conflict.
Given the urgency of the situation, the committee has asked the minister to reconsider.
Following the fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant the director general of the International Atomic Energy Authority, Rafael Mariano Grossi, said on Friday that he has offered to travel to the Chernobyl site to facilitate a negotiation between Ukraine and Russia.
The aim would be to agree a framework to guarantee safety of nuclear plants during the conflict, including how to ensure the physical integrity of sites, maintaining power, safety monitoring systems and that staff at sites are able to fulfil duties. Both sides are considering the proposal.
“The situation continues to be extremely tense and challenging,” said Grossi. He added:
The physical integrity of the plant has been compromised with what happened last night. we are fortunate that there was no release of radiation and the integrity of the reactors themselves were not compromised.
I have indicated to both the Russian Federation and Ukraine my availability and disposition to travel to Chernobyl as soon as possible.
Two experts have offered some reassurance that the military activity at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is unlikely to cause a major nuclear incident.
Dr Mark Wenman, reader in nuclear materials at Imperial College London, said:
The Zaporizhzia nuclear plant has six VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor units producing 20% of Ukraine’s electricity.
The plant is a relatively modern reactor design and as such the essential reactor components are housed inside a heavily steel reinforced concrete containment building that can withstand extreme external events, both natural and man-made, such as an aircraft crash or explosions.
The reactor core is itself further housed in a sealed steel pressure vessel with 20cm thick walls. The design is a lot different to the Chernobyl reactor, which did not have a containment building, and hence there is no real risk, in my opinion, at the plant now the reactors have been safely shut down.
Prof Tom Scott, at the University of Bristol, UK said:
Shelling nuclear power plants is against the Geneva conventions and this is obviously very worrying. The good news is that radiation levels around the plant are reportedly normal and five of the six reactors are now turned off, with one still operating.
The reactors are all pressurised water reactors and hence don’t have graphite cores which could set on fire as per Chernobyl. Their inherent safety design should mean they are naturally quite resilient to any external perturbations and hence I am not overly concerned that inadvertent damage could cause a major nuclear incident.
However, it would be more concerning if the reactors were being deliberately targeted to induce a nuclear incident.
Ahead of a busy day of diplomacy in Brussels, Nato’s secretary general Jens Stontenberg has said the attacks by Russia on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – the largest in Europe – highlight the “recklessness” of Vladimir Putin’s war.
We condemn the attacks on civilians and overnight we have also seen the reports about the attacks against a nuclear power plant. This just shows the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it.
And the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops and engaging in good faith in diplomatic efforts.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss is in Brussels for a meeting of Nato ministers and later she will join EU foreign ministers who are also hosting Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken, Canada’s foreign minister Mélanie Joly and Stoltenberg.
In the UK, the mayor of Salford has written to Michael Gove to ask for help to cut ties with the Russian energy firm Gazprom, warning that “state-owned and/or backed Russian organisations and services are still woven inextricably into the delivery of Local Government services within the United Kingdom”.
Paul Dennett wants his local authority not to have to renew its non-domestic natural gas contract with Gazprom, agreed in June 2020 when the Russian firm far outbid domestic providers.
He says that councils across the country also use Gazprom because it is so much cheaper than other companies and so automatically wins procurement competitions.
Gazprom also provides energy to a number of NHS trusts. On Thursday, the health secretary Sajid Javid began talks with NHS England (NHSE) over ending the contracts, which are reported by Politico to have been worth £16m in 2021.
“Our contract will be up for renewal in June, and I do not wish for public money to be spent towards the income of the Russian state during the present military crisis in Ukraine. However, at present under the current round of sanctions and/or rules, such considerations would seemingly not be considered legally relevant in assessing Gazprom’s suitability for winning the next tendering exercise (or not),” Dennett writes in a letter to Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up.
Dennett says Salford is fully supportive of the government’s stated ambitions to “inflict devastating consequences on President Vladimir Putin and Russia” following Russia’s unprovoked assault on the sovereign nation of Ukraine, using sanctions and other financial measures.
“However, state-owned and/or backed Russian organisations and services are still woven inextricably into the delivery of local government services within the United Kingdom, and at present their involvement in bidding for tenders and contracts is enshrined in UK public procurement regulations for the procurement and tendering of services,” writes Dennett.
He wants Gove to change the law to make it easier for local authorities to break ties with Gazprom and stop Gazprom pitching for replacement contracts, even if it means having to pay more for municipal energy.