The French defence minister, Herve Morin, says he hopes the first victims of France's nuclear weapons tests will receive compensation for radiation-related illnesses within six months.
Inaugurating the office of a compensation committee, Mr Morin says it was more than time for his country to assume its responsibilities for the more than 200 tests in carried out in French Polynesia and Algeria.
A decree listing 18 cancers has been put in place to define the area and the people eligible for compensation for poor health.
About 150,000 people were involved in the weapons testing regime between 1960 and 1996.
The scope of the decree has been strongly criticised by veterans groups which say the state is both party and judge.
But Mr Morin says he is pleased to have pushed for such a law after both the political right and left for more than 30 years had refused to lift a finger over these concerns.