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Physics - Conventional Power Stations (AQA Syllabus A)

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.

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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.

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  1. What is the purpose of the turbine in a power station?
    The turbine transfers heat energy into kinetic energy
  2. In a power station using a fossil fuel or biofuel, what is the overall energy transfer?
    Fossil fuels and biofuels contain stored chemical energy which is released as heat when it is burnt. This heat is then transferred to kinetic energy by the turbines, and from kinetic to electrical by the generators
  3. In a nuclear power station, which of the following represents the sequence of energy transfers in the correct order?
    The heat energy is transferred to kinetic energy in the turbine, exactly as with the fuel burning power station
  4. To which of the following environmental issues does burning fossil fuels to generate electricity contribute?
    Burning fossil fuels produces a lot of carbon dioxide
  5. Which of the following is also released when fossil fuels are burnt?
    Sulfur dioxide and soot from power stations used to contribute to the problems of acid rain and smog but, in the UK, power stations are now fitted with systems to clean up the gases and solid particles that were responsible. There are some countries in the world where they don't bother to do this
  6. In a nuclear fuel, where is the energy released from?
    That is why it is called nuclear fuel
  7. Which of the following power stations has the shortest start up time?
    This type of power station is usually used to provide extra electricity at peak times. Nuclear and coal fired have the longest start up times so they are constantly running and used to provide what is termed 'base load' electricity. This means that electricity is always available from the National Grid
  8. Although nuclear fuel is relatively cheap, electricity from nuclear power stations is relatively expensive. Why?
    Containing, handling and disposing of radioactive materials needs special equipment and procedures
  9. What are the two elements used as nuclear fuels?
    Plutonium is also used in a destructive capacity in atomic bombs
  10. What type of nuclear reaction occurs in a nuclear power station?
    Some scientists are attempting to build nuclear recators that work using fusion reactions. This is proving to be very difficult but would be much better as there would be no nuclear waste to dispose of

Author: Kev Woodward

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