The article explores how the global Cold War conflict was made sense of and situated in local political, cultural and physical landscapes and communities during the 1980s in Britain and Denmark. Using civil defence as a prism, the article employs a comparative approach to explore variations within and between countries of how local authorities prepared or resisted the prospect of nuclear war. The article finds that two main imaginaries emerged that shaped shared understandings of society before, during and after the imagined future war: one emphasized the possibility of nuclear survival and even welfare, the other urged resistance and renounced the futility of civil defence preparations. The article argues that local actors used these imaginaries to empower themselves, to define how nuclear space was imagined and lived and to construct desirable (and undesirable) visions of the future. The imaginaries were multiscalar and interacted with developments at global and national levels, and the article sheds light on this three-way dynamic of understanding and articulating the nuclear age.