Electrical energy is amongst the subjects studied in GCSE Science. This is one of six quizzes on that particular topic and it looks at how conventional fuel burning power stations and nuclear power stations both work.
In a conventional power station a fuel is used to heat water and so produce steam. The steam is then passed through a turbine which is connected to a generator. As the turbine rotates, it turns the generator which produces the electricity. The electricity is then fed into the National Grid for distribution to homes and businesses.
The fuels that are used vary from power station to power station. Some burn fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas. Some burn biofuels, but these are generally much smaller than the other types. The fuel is burnt in a boiler where the heat released is used to boil some water to form steam. The steam is then used to turn the turbine.
The main disadvantage of fuel burning power stations is the production of waste gases. These need to be cleaned before they enter the atmosphere, however, it is not possible to remove the carbon dioxide from the waste gases. Many people, including scientists, believe that carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming.
An alternative to burning fossil fuels or biofuels is to use nuclear fuels. These undergo a controlled chain reaction in the core of a nuclear reactor which releases a huge amount of heat. This heat is collected using a coolant and used to make steam in a heat exchanger. There are two big advantages to nuclear power - there are no waste gases and there is a huge amount of energy released from just small amounts of nuclear fuel. But there are some really big problems too - the possibility of accidental release of radioactive materials into the air, and what to do with the highly radioactive materials that are produced.