China has proposed that a global treaty outlawing all nuclear blasts should be re-examined in about 10 years to see whether "peaceful nuclear explosions" should be allowed, diplomats said on Wednesday.
The proposal, made at closed-door negotiations in Geneva on Tuesday, was immediately condemned by environmentalists Greenpeace, who warned that any mention of so-called "PNEs" could only weaken a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).China's insistence that peaceful blasts be allowed - in construction projects, for example - had been seen as one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a pact before a June 28 deadline.
In a move welcomed by other states at the international Conference on Disarmament, Beijing announced earlier this month that it had given up its demand for the right to conduct PNEs after the entry into force of a test ban.
But it said that it would still be insisting that the text be reworded so that the issue of PNEs would be automatically re-examined at the treaty's first review conference, expected in about 10 years' time.
According to a Greenpeace news release on Wednesday, confirmed by diplomats involved in the negotiations, China formally submitted its proposed rewording on Tuesday.
It proposed that a new Article Two titled "Peaceful Nuclear Explosions" be inserted into the accord that would oblige the review conference to examine the possibility of "underground nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes."
The article says that, if the review conference accepted "by consensus" that such explosions should be allowed, the treaty should then be amended to allow them.
China argues that the world should not deprive itself of the chance to use nuclear blasts for peaceful means some time in the future.
Chinese officials have variously suggested that PNEs could be used to generate electricity in underground caverns, to blast a tunnel for water from the Tibetan mountains to irrigate the Taklimakan desert, or even to deflect asteroids heading toward the Earth.
Greenpeace said all those ideas were "rather fantastic."