Behind the scenes at the Nuclear Waste Program

Hangin' with Andrew Pomiak

Man showing groundwater model experiment to school aged kids.

Andrew Pomiak shows how a groundwater model works at an outreach event.

“Hanford is one of the greatest environmental challenges in history, and I am lucky to be part of the cleanup,” Andrew said.

Introducing our Nuclear Waste Program team

This blog is the first in our new series highlighting our amazing team overseeing the federal government’s cleanup of the Hanford Site — one of the most contaminated nuclear cleanup sites in the world.

In each blog we’ll spotlight an individual member of our Nuclear Waste Program and the work they do to keep Hanford cleanup on track.

For our first story, we sat down with Andrew Pomiak, who served Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program for eight years as an Environmental Specialist 4 and 242-A Evaporator Permit Lead.

History in the making

Andrew is passionate about the job he performs at the Hanford Site. There is no doubt that the uniqueness of his job is similar to the uniqueness of the Hanford Site itself!

“Everything about Hanford is unique; it’s never far from something new,” Andrew said.

According to Andrew, the endgame of Hanford cleanup is still not a solid picture. He thinks that many decisions over the coming decades will decide the fate of Hanford.

“Our work today will shape the future of the Columbia basin. It’s exciting, interesting, and important,” Andrew said.

He also said that he feels honored and accomplished by being part of the Hanford Dangerous Waste Permit Revision 9 issuance.

A day in the life

“I like to start my day with coffee and e-mail review," Andrew said.

He often attends meetings that begin early in the morning, and then, touches base with the various groups he collaborates with on a day-to-day basis.

Document review and development takes up most of Andrew’s time between meetings, but he assured us he enjoys processing applications and all the paperwork it entails.

For a few hours a week, Andrew also meets with project managers from the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors to discuss technical issues with permit applications.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way Ecology does a lot of its work. Many staff now work in a hybrid format, teleworking some of the week and coming into the office the rest of the time. Andrew said he’s enjoyed being able to come to the office in-person again.

“While in the office, I spend some time walking around and talking to others in the office when I have a question,” Andrew said.

Background and current job

Man sitting behind table full of cookies.

Andrew Pomiak leading a bake sale for the 2019 Combined Fund Drive at the Nuclear Waste Program office. 

“Hanford is one of the greatest environmental challenges in history, and I am lucky to be part of the cleanup,” Andrew said.

Prior to working for Ecology, he worked on salmon migration through dams, was a chemist at a U.S. Department of Defense site, a greenhouse manager, and served as a native riparian plant technician.

Andrew enjoys working with all the Hanford professionals and learning the history and facets of the site. He considers collaboration between Hanford agencies key, as he really enjoys solving difficult problems across multiple agencies.

He said one of the most challenging aspects of his job is that permitting can lead to high emotions, especially when dealing with differing opinions in meetings.

“Ultimately, a permit is a document for operations at Hanford and flexibility is key in managing waste at such a complex site,” Andrew said. “Using strong regulatory understanding and good meeting management leads to necessary collaboration between the agencies.”

In his time working on Hanford, Andrew said his skills in collaboration and conflict resolution have grown the most. He recalled a several different disagreements he’s navigated in his time at Ecology, and how they were resolved.

“With some determination and grit, owning up to our issues, staying strong on positions, and good comment resolution, we came to strong decisions with positive effects on the environment,” Andrew said.

A mind for music

Andrew’s been an avid guitar collector and player for decades. Music is a very important part of his life.

“I go to lots of concerts and pluck around as often as I can,” Andrew said with a smile.

Being in nature is also one of his hobbies as he tries to spend as much time outside as possible. He enjoys backpacking, hiking, climbing, paddleboarding, pretty much any activity that would take him outside and to spend some time in nature.

For the future generations

Andrew values the opportunities he’s had through his career. As he envisions changes and more environmental regulations on the field, he said that the younger generations, local or nationwide, should just get out there and take jobs that capture their interest.

“A varied background, whether it be in natural resources, applied sciences, regulatory enforcement, and across governmental and private industries, lead to a strong environmental professional,” Andrew said.

Since the time of this interview, Andrew has moved across the country for an exciting new opportunity. We wish him the best of luck, and wanted to recognize his significant contributions to Hanford cleanup over the last eight years.