During the Cold War, Havana symbolised the struggle for national liberation in Latin America. Yet in few other places on the island of Cuba did the Revolution's visions of development materialise as they did in the southern city of Cienfuegos. This article examines why two half-finished nuclear reactors and a decaying ‘nuclear city’ still remain in Cienfuegos. Through a comprehensive spatial and infrastructural transformation of Cuba, the revolutionary government sought to remedy the evils of dependency and unequal exchange. Cienfuegos, and its shifting place in the Cold War political economy, demonstrates how a radical critique of urbanisation merged with the spatiality of centralised energy infrastructure in the pursuit of ultimately-failed nuclear modernity. The history of Cienfuegos draws the academic gaze away from Latin America's major cities to broaden the ‘geographies of theory’ in urban, energy and Latin American studies.