South Africa has embarked on the initial phases of a nuclear build programme to mitigate its energy insecurity. These ambitions have been on the post-apartheid government’s agenda for 25 years. Despite its practical commitments to international norms, such as the peaceful use of nuclear energy, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, domestic nuclear governance in the country remains poor, fragmented and outdated. It may not be able to meet the demands of or realise future nuclear plans. South Africa should manage expectations in general and vis-à-vis nuclear energy in particular, pursuing this option only if it is financially viable, especially amid the current COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fall-out.