According to Jon Palfreman
After experimenting with their own gas-cooled reactors in the 1960s, the French gave up and purchased American Pressurized Water Reactors designed by Westinghouse. Sticking to just one design meant the 56 plants were much cheaper to build than in the US. Moreover, management of safety issues was much easier: the lessons from any incident at one plant could be quickly learned by managers of the other 55 plants. The “return of experience” says Mandil is much greater in a standardized system than in a free for all, with many different designs managed by many different utilities as we have in America.
Aside: Regarding the priorities of French society
Part of their popularity comes from the fact that scientists and engineers have a much higher status in France than in America. Many high ranking civil servants and government officials trained as scientists and engineers (rather than lawyers, as in the United States), and, unlike in the U.S. where federal administrators are often looked down upon, these technocrats form a special elite. Many have graduated from a few elite schools such as the Ecole Polytechnic. According to Mandil, respect and trust in technocrats is widespread. “For a long time, in families, the good thing for a child to become was an engineer or a scientist, not a lawyer. We like our engineers and our scientists and we are confident in them.”