Residents of French Polynesia who suffered because of 30 years of French nuclear tests have a legitimate right to compensation, President Francois Hollande said on his first visit to the region.

The sensitive issue of reparations for damage caused by atomic testing between 1966 and 1996 at Mururoa Atoll is top of the agenda of Hollande's tour of French Pacific territories.

"If France is what it is today, with this deterrent capability, it is because there were nuclear tests for a very long period," he said on arrival in Papeete.

"It's quite legitimate that France should make good for a number of consequences, whether social, health-related or economic," he said in a news conference with Polynesian President Edouard Fritch.


Regional authorities say compensation approved by a 2010 law has been slow to arrive. An anti-nuclear pressure group said only 19 people, of whom just five are Polynesians, had received payments.

An annual €150 million ($247 million) subsidy fixed when President Jacques Chirac ended nuclear tests in 1996 is to shrink to €84 million this year.

Employers and trade unions that manage the regional health fund are demanding €450 million to treat people they say are suffering from cancer due to radiation.