A surprise announcement was delivered to the pebble bed modular reactor (PMBR) project in South Africa's 2010 budget - it would no longer obtain significant state funds. As a result the project had to dismiss 75 per cent of its staff. It had spent in the region of nine billion rands of state funds without having realised any of its plans. Furthermore, it had been unable to attract significant outside investment or potential clients. Given the central importance of energy policy in South Africa, it is more important than ever that projects like the PBMR are evaluated for their necessity, viability, affordability, sustainability, and contribution to the country's development path. While the government appears to have dropped the PBMR for the present, recent media rhetoric suggests that it is still committed to adding substantial amounts of nuclear power to its future energy mix. This effort seems to being made without first addressing problems relating to democratic governance, public policy making and promoting the special interests of lobby groups. This paper seeks to raise such issues within an appraisal of the country's checkered nuclear history and its development aspirations.