French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Paris owed "a debt" to French Polynesia over nuclear tests conducted in the South Pacific territory between 1966 and 1996, although he stopped short of apologising, reports Radio France Internationale.
"I accept responsibility and I want truth and transparency together with you," Macron said in a speech to Polynesian officials during his first official trip to the territory, adding that there should be better compensation for victims of the tests.
"The nation owes a debt to French Polynesia. This debt is from having conducted these tests, in particular those between 1966 and 1974. Nobody can claim that they were clean."
The legacy of French testing in the territory remains a source of deep resentment and is seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that disregarded the lives of locals.
The tests were conducted from 1966 to 1996 as France developed nuclear weapons.
Officials denied any cover-up of radiation exposure earlier this month after French investigative website Disclose reported in March that the impact from the fallout was far more extensive than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents.
Macron echoed the sentiments in his remarks on Tuesday.
"I want to tell you clearly that the military who carried them out did not lie to you. They took the same risks... There were no lies, there were risks that weren't calculated, including by the military."
"I think it's true that we would not have done the same tests in La Creuse or in Brittany," he said, referring to regions inside mainland France.
"We did them here because it was further away, lost in middle of the Pacific," he said.
But Macron said he nonetheless "fully" stood behind France's post-war ambition to acquire nuclear arms, including for the defence of French Polynesia.
France conducted its first successful atomic bomb test in 1960, making it the world's fourth nuclear power after the US, the Soviet Union and Britain.