If Iran plans to make nuclear weapons away from the prying eyes of the international community, it would need a secret facility like the one Obama revealed Friday.
That is because Western intelligence analysts and experts outside government have long suspected that if Iran wanted to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon, it would have to do so at a hidden facility. Known Iranian nuclear sites are too closely watched to serve that purpose.
Two years ago, in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate of Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities, the US intelligence community concluded that "we assess with moderate confidence that Iran probably would use covert facilities – rather than its declared nuclear sites – for the production of highly enriched uranium for weapon."
Information made public so far makes it appear the new site has all the attributes this predicted covert facility would have.
1. It's hidden
First of all, it may be dug into the side of a mountain. The US government has not said exactly where the suspect plant is located, noting only that it is near the city of Qom. But outside experts have already produced satellite imagery (see a pdf of the pictures here) of a likely location that appears to be a tunnel dug into the side of a ridge on a military facility 30 miles north east of Qom.
2. It's small
A US official who briefed reporters last week said it is designed to hold about 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges. That is too few to produce low-enriched uranium for a nuclear power reactor.