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Keywords:

  • everyday risk perceptions;
  • nuclear power;
  • local communities;
  • narrative method;
  • risk biography

Nearly two decades since the last nuclear power station was built and began operating in the UK, nuclear energy is firmly back on the political agenda domestically and elsewhere in the world. Yet since the 1980s, little research has investigated perceptions of nuclear power in the UK, particularly those of communities living in very close proximity to such facilities. Using biographical narrative interviews (n = 61), we explore how local residents living close to two nuclear power stations in the UK (Bradwell, Essex and Oldbury, South Gloucestershire) have come to view their local facility. We reveal how the power station is constructed through processes of familiarisation and/or the normalisation/normification of risk as part of everyday life; how this ordinariness is juxtaposed with moments of extraordinariness in which, due to direct and mediated events, the power station is reframed as a risk issue; and how risk awareness is associated with moments of anxiety which ebb and flow through our interviewees’ lives. We conclude that biographical experiences dynamically unfolding through space and time can be interrupted by risk events (mediated and direct, real and symbolic, nuclear and non-nuclear) to disrupt the usually taken-for-granted ordinariness of a power station’s presence in a particular locality. Our findings suggest that those involved in debate about new nuclear build must be sensitive to the heterogeneity of the extraordinary in nuclear affairs and the importance of socio-cultural histories of place.